(This post was written for the 98th Edition of the COG: "The topic for the next edition of the COG will be: Document Analysis! Show us a document that helped you break down a brick wall on your family tree. Discuss the information that appears on the document and how it contributes to your family history.")
In May of 2008, I got the idea that I wanted to make a family history book for my grandmother for Christmas of that year. The only problem was that I didn't know a whole lot about her family, her grandmother being the biggest mystery. Susanna von Allmen, the lady in question and my great-great-grandmother, was a real enigma even though I had several pictures of her and she dutifully showed up in every census after her marriage in 1866. From those records I knew that she was born around 1850 in Illinois and that her parents were from Switzerland. That was it.
Since I didn't have much on my grandmother's ancestors, I asked if I could go through her family documents and was, to my joy, told that I could go through and keep whatever I wanted. I only had about an hour or two that day to actually go look at what she had so I needed to quickly gloss over everything, pull out anything that looked the least bit genealogical, and throw it in a bag to take home and analyze later. Among the things I took that day was a bundle of letters. I hadn't really looked at them closely, but I knew they were letters to Susanna from her husband, John Berger and later, her son, Gideon (my great-grandfather).
That night, once I had some free time, I started going through it all. The letters were the last thing I looked at. I had been putting them off because there were so many to look through, but at the same time I knew, just looking at the bundle, there it would probably be a goldmine. It was, but I still knew nothing more about Susanna than when I had started and there were only a few more letters to go. Then it happened: I came across a letter unlike any of the others and from a man I had never heard of before.